2014 Playoff Predictions

Tomorrow night marks the start of the NHL playoffs and so to continue an annual tradition (once is a tradition, right?) I’ve put together the World Famous PuckPlusPlus Playoff Prediction Preview (hurray, alliteration). In the lockout shortened season, our model managed to do fairly well, correctly predicting all of the conference finalists as well as the eventual Cup winner and runner-up so we’ve set a pretty high bar for ourselves for this year.

Our model last year was relatively straightforward, looking at each team’s Fenwick For %, Shooting Percentage, and Save Percentage to determine the probability of winning an individual game. For this season our model still uses the same variables, but I’ve slightly tweaked how they’re fed into the model: rather than looking at each team’s save and shooting percentage individually, the model now looks at the home team’s “Shooting Advantage” and “Save Advantage”, which are simply the difference between the home team and the visiting team’s shooting and save percentages respectively.  The rationale for making this change was to ensure that the shooting percentages for each team were given the same weight in determining the outcome of the game (and likewise for each team’s save percentage). I’ve also set up the model to use the save percentage of the expected starter for each team, to remove the effect of the back-up goalies on our predictions.

With all that explanation out of the way, let’s take a look at what the model thinks is going to happen over the next few weeks. The table below shows each teams odds of advancing to a given round of the playoffs, as well as their odds of being the eventual Cup champions. Winners of the 1st round are also highlighted in bold

Team 2nd Round 3rd Round Stanley Cup Win Cup
Boston Bruins 68.5% 53.7% 43.0% 27.1%
Chicago Blackhawks 63.5% 47.4% 29.8% 18.8%
Anaheim Ducks 71.8% 47.2% 26.9% 15.7%
St. Louis Blues 36.5% 22.2% 10.7% 5.3%
Detroit Red Wings 31.5% 19.0% 11.9% 5.1%
Los Angeles Kings 54.9% 24.2% 10.4% 4.9%
Colorado Avalanche 63.4% 22.3% 9.3% 3.9%
Columbus Blue Jackets 53.6% 31.9% 11.2% 3.9%
Tampa Bay Lightning 55.6% 16.0% 8.8% 3.0%
San Jose Sharks 45.1% 17.0% 6.6% 2.7%
Pittsburgh Penguins 46.4% 26.8% 8.5% 2.7%
New York Rangers 59.4% 26.3% 7.4% 2.1%
Montréal Canadiens 44.4% 11.3% 5.8% 1.8%
Dallas Stars 28.2% 11.7% 3.9% 1.5%
Minnesota Wild 36.6% 8.1% 2.4% 0.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 40.6% 14.9% 3.3% 0.7%

In the Eastern Conference, and looking at the battle for the Cup in general, the Bruins appear to be the heavy favourites at nearly even money to make the cup and roughly 1 in 4 odds to win the whole thing. Boston’s high odds are driven by 2 things: 1) They’re a really good hockey team, backstopped by arguably the best goaltender in the league; and 2) The Eastern Conference is much weaker than the West this year. The East is so weak in fact, that the model believes the Bruins toughest battle before the cup will be their first round opponents, the Red Wings, who still only have a 31.5% chance of taking down the President’s Trophy winners. After Detroit, there’s not a single team in the East who the model views as having better than a 25% chance of beating the Bruins.

On the Western Conference side, things are a bit tighter: Chicago and Anaheim are a close 2nd and 3rd in overall odds, although neither team has even a 50% chance of getting to the conference finals. The Ducks in particular are a tough team to figure out given their goaltending situation. The probabilities shown above assume that Frederik Andersen starts for the Ducks but if we re-run the numbers with Jonas Hiller in net the Ducks overall odds decrease to 8.1%, while their odds of even getting out of the first round drop 8.5 points to 63.3%.

Speaking of team’s whose odds change dramatically based on who’s in net, the Tampa Bay Lightning definitely need Ben Bishop to get better fast if they want to have any hope of taking home the cup at the end of the year. With Anders Lindback in net, the model views them as only a 55% favourite to get past the Habs in the first round, while with Bishop manning the crease their odds increase to 62.6% (admittedly, Bishop won’t make much of a difference on their Cup odds increasing them by only ~2% as they’d still have to get by the Bruins).

The most interesting teams in my opinion are the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings. While the Wings are heavy underdogs, if they are able to get past the Bruins in round 1 their odds will skyrocket and they would definitely be the favourites to represent the East in the Cup Finals. Although the model may view a defeat of the Bruins as being less than likely, it is important to note that the Wings seem to be getting healthy at the right time, and may be being underestimated in our predictions.

Columbus, on the other hand, go into the first round as surprising favourites against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury, this one’s on you). The Blue Jackets are struggling with injury issues of their own however, and unless they can get Nathan Horton, R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno back they could be in trouble against a Penguins team that is getting some big names back for the start of round 1. Should ‘Lumbus get through the first round though, they’d likely be strong favourites to take on the Bruins in the Conference finals, as they’re predicted to come out ahead in matchups against either the New York Rangers of Philadelphia Flyers.

The least likely team to move past the first round is one that many are predicting to pull off an upset in the first round, the Dallas Stars. Dallas is ultimately a heavy underdog due to the fact that they’re only slightly ahead of the Ducks on the puck possession side, while trailing them heavily both on the shooting percentage and goaltending fronts. Of course as we mentioned above the Ducks advantage in the model is primarily due to Frederik Andersen-facing off against Jonas Hiller, the Ducks are viewed as having roughly the same likelihood of advancing as the Blues and Wild (one of those should offer comfort to Stars fans, while the other-not so much).

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